A wild dog chases after you, blood smeared around its mouth, teeth sharp, saliva dripping down its neck, eyes wide with fury. It’s a rabid dog, and it looks like something out of a horror movie. And that’s just what it is. The reality is that rabies is a virus that affects animals worldwide. Unchecked, rabid animals can easily bite and infect people.
Rabies in the Philippines
It is estimated that rabies kills 200 to 500 Filipinos every year. The DOH is working with the Department of Agriculture on a dog vaccination campaign, with a combined budget of over Php 100 million. The DOH and the DA hope to eliminate human rabies by 2016. Records from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) show that dogs account for a majority of the bites that lead to rabies—as high as 98% of all cases. As of 2010, the DOH has established 365 Animal Bite Treatment Centers (ABTCs), all equipped with vaccines. Protect your pets and yourselves. Do your part and get them vaccinated!
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rabies is a viral disease that affects mammals. Most often, it is transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. In addition
to dogs and cats, it also occurs in raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. When an animal is infected with rabies, the virus infects the central nervous system, affecting the brain and causing death.
One problem with rabies infections in cats and dogs is that symptoms don’t appear immediately after the bite. This is why a pet that has been bitten by an unknown animal should be brought to a veterinarian for at least 14 days of observation, preferably in isolation, to reduce the chances of spreading the disease.
Another reason prevention is better than the cure: According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), “There is no accurate test to diagnose rabies in live animals. The direct fluorescent antibody test is the most accurate test for diagnosis,
but it can only be performed after the death of the animal. The rabies virus can incubate in a cat’s body anywhere from just one week to more than a year before becoming active. When the virus does become active, symptoms appear quickly.”
Worse, “There is no treatment or cure for rabies once symptoms appear. The disease results in fatality.”
How can you tell if your dog is rabid? The ASPCA lists “extreme behavioral changes such as restlessness or apprehension, both of which may be compounded by aggression. Friendly dogs
may become irritable, while normally excitable animals may become more docile. A dog may bite or snap at any form of stimulus, attacking other animals, humans and even inanimate objects.”
There are other signs: “They may constantly lick, bite and chew at the site where they were bitten. A fever may also be present at this stage. As the virus progresses, an infected dog may
become hypersensitive to touch, light and sound. They may eat unusual things and hide in dark places.”
Then come the symptoms we’re familiar with. “Paralysis of the throat and jaw muscles may follow, resulting in the well-known symptom of foaming at the mouth. Disorientation, incoordination and staggering may occur, caused by paralysis of the hind legs. Other classic signs of rabies include loss of appetite, weakness, seizures and sudden death.”
Unfortunately, “The virus usually incubates from two to eight weeks before signs are noticed. Since rabies presents a serious public health threat, dogs who are suspected of having the virus are most often euthanized.”
Symptoms are a little different for cats, and can take months to develop. “Classic signs of rabies in cats are changes in behavior (including aggression, restlessness and lethargy), increased vocalization, loss of appetite, weakness, disorientation, paralysis, seizures and even sudden death.”
Why Should We Worry About Rabies?
The biggest problem with rabies is that the virus is passed on when an infected animal bites a human being. Symptoms include fever, headaches, and general weakness. As the disease progresses, more symptoms appear: insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (increase in saliva), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water).
Once these symptoms appear, death usually occurs within days. According to the CDC in 2011, “more than 55,000 people, mostly in Africa and Asia, die from rabies every year – a rate of
one person every ten minutes.”
If you get bitten, even if you are not sure the animal is rabid, St. Luke’s Medical
Center has the following guidelines from the Department of Health:
• Wash bite wounds immediately and thoroughly with soap and water
• Do not delay treatment of any animal bite case. Consult with your nearest physician for possible vaccination. The DOH Rabies website has a list of public and private animal
bite centers you can visit. (http://rabies.doh.gov.ph/)
• Do not seek help from faith healers. The rabies virus can only be killed by anti-rabies vaccine.
• Do not let your dogs lick the wound.
This appeared in Animal Scene’s November 2015 issue.